Malaysian PM Najib begins move for legal action over Wall Street Journal article

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak offers a prayer during a Ramadan Iftar gathering at a mosque in Semenyih.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak offers a prayer during a Ramadan Iftar gathering at a mosque in Semenyih.PHOTO: AFP

PETALING JAYA - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak  has started legal action against The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) over its reports that US$700 million (S$950 million) belonging to state investor 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) was deposited into his private bank accounts.

However, instead of the customary letter of demand, Najib's legal team from Hafarizam Wan & Aisha Mubarak sent an email to Dow Jones, the owner of WSJ, requesting that its publication confirm whether it stood by its report, the Malaysiakini news portal reported. Najib gave the publication 14 days to respond.

"We are instructed by our client to seek confirmation as to whether it is your position, as taken in the articles, that our client misappropriated nearly US$700 million from 1MDB?

"We are instructed to procure your position because the articles collectively suggest that you are unsure of the 'original source of the money and what happened to the money' whilst on the other hand, the general gist of the articles create a clear impression that our client has misappropriated US$700 million belonging to 1MDB," the lawyers' letter stated.

Writing in a blog post on his official website on Wednesday, Najib confirmed he had instructed his lawyers to hand in a letter to the WSJ seeking the paper to state its position on the two articles. "My lawyers will take the appropriate action after receiving a response from the newspaper," he said. He added that the special task force that has been set up to investigate the 1MDB money trail "must take into account the veracity of the documents published to back the newspaper's actions".

The letter highlighted two articles: "Malaysia leader's accounts probed" published on July 2 and "Scandal in Malaysia" published on July 6, both written by Simon Clark and Tom Wright. 

"In the circumstances and in the interest of our client, we would expect a newspaper of your international standing and reputation to state unequivocally and with clarity as to whether it is your contention that our client misappropriated about US$700 million belonging to 1MDB.

"You will no doubt appreciate the seriousness of the allegation made against our client in the said articles and confirmation is sought to enable us to advise our client the appropriate legal recourse he can take to seek redress in relation to the publication of these articles," said the letter. 

The letter also indicated that both the publication and authors may be sued. "Please let us know whether you have appointed solicitors in Malaysia to accept service of legal proceedings on your behalf and on behalf of the reporters who wrote the articles in the event that legal proceeding becomes necessary," the email adds.

The WSJ reports alleged transfers of US$700 million into Mr Najib's accounts in AmBank - Malaysia's fifth-largest lender - and triggered a multi-agency government probe

On Tuesday, the newspaper released nine documents detailing how the state funds allegedly ended up in his personal bank accounts. The documents, which the newspaper said came from a "Malaysian government investigation", were published on the WSJ's website.

They showed alleged bank transfers from various companies to Najib's personal accounts in March 2013, December last year and February this year.

A letter dated Jan 20 last year regarding power of attorney over three bank accounts under AmIslamic Bank Berhad was also published on the WSJ website.

However, some details, such as the last five digits of the AmIslamic accounts said to belong to the Prime Minister, had been blanked out, along with some other details in the documents.